An apprenticeship is the basis for a great tattoo career. They are not easy to do, not easy to get, not easy to prepare for, not easy to pay for. But all of this is for a reason. This hub will help you learn the ups and downs, pros and cons of getting a tattoo apprenticeship and how to go about getting one.
PLEASE NOTE: The purpose of the article is to help educate and guide you in your journey to becoming a tattoo artist. Every shop and teacher will be different, but what follows is a good jumping off point to knowing what to expect.
Most of all: DO NOT TATTOO UNTIL YOU HAVE COMPLETED YOUR APPRENTICESHIP!
There are many reasons why you absolutely need an apprenticeship, but the one that people tend to forget: Apprenticeships are not only a crucial training period, they are a right of passage. Show respect for this community and those who have earned the right to tattoo.
An apprenticeship is what a potential tattoo artist (and piercers) have to go through to become a professional artist. Think of it as earning your wings. Here are the basic steps.
1. Building a portfolio
First and foremost, do not walk into a shop with a portfolio of actual tattoos you’ve done. This is absolutely unacceptable for several reasons. One, you don’t have any idea what you are doing. Two, you can cause irreparable damage to the person you tattoo. Three, that artist will have to take time to not only teach you the right way to tattoo, but wean you off ‘scratcher’ habits.
A portfolio consists of 50 to 200 drawings. This means COMPLETED and COLORED. You don’t want to walk into the shop with a sketch book full of doodles and half complete ideas. Choose only your best work, what you feel best showcases your talent. Portfolios should be in an actual portfolio, placed and matted in sheet protectors. Choose a portfolio that looks professional, don’t just use a three ring binder. Presentation is all about showing how professional and serious you are about getting your apprenticeship.
As far as drawings go, you want to have a wide array of work. Draw things that people usually get tattooed and some of your own creative ideas for tattoos. DO NOT copy other artists work. If that’s your idea of tattooing, then you had better find a different career. If you are having a hard time deciding what to draw, think of different life experiences that people would get tattooed. Tattoos are all about commemorating a time in your life, remembering something/someone or simply for adornment reasons. In your career you will constantly be doing these kind of tattoos. Ask your friends what they would get tattooed and draw it. There’s no better way to prepare yourself than to talk to people who may be your potential clients someday.
Draw everyday. Make every drawing your best. Don’t give up on an idea just because its too hard or boring because you will not always have a choice when it comes to tattooing. Again, all drawings must be complete. Color them using your choice of medium. Watercolor/Ink is widely thought to be the most similar to actually tattooing.
2. Finding a Shop
Find a shop with a good reputation. You want to learn from someone who actually wants to teach you, has a good educational background, and who will challenge you. This person is responsible for helping you learn the basics and some of their own tricks for tattooing so you want the best. Apprenticeships will cost you from nothing to around $5,000+, so you will want to make it worth your while.
Persistence is absolutely key in this process. If possible, get tattooed by the artist you want to learn from. Even better, get tattooed as much as possible (there are many reasons for this advice). Hang out in the shop, if they’ll let you. Even volunteering your time there can help you build a relationship with the artists there.
3. The Apprenticeship
When you get an apprenticeship, prepare to be what they call the ‘shop bitch’. You don’t get paid and you do all the dirty work. Take care of the trash, set up/break down stations, make sure they’re stocked, sweeping, run errands, etc. Chances are for awhile that’s all you’ll be doing. They do this to make sure you’re actually interested in doing the job, to weed out the unworthy. So take these tasks as an honor. You’re lucky to be there! So act that way. And don’t wait to be asked to do these things, just do them.
When you start learning, you will do a lot of watching. You will sit and watch several tattoos being done. Stay attentive. The best way to learn is through watching. You will learn how to make needles, use the autoclave, and all the health precautions to be taken (including blood borne pathogen certification). After, you will start learning to use the tattoo machine (NEVER call it a gun!). At first, you will tattoo on fake skin, fruit and maybe even yourself, depending on your teacher. You will learn about all the different set ups for the machines, the difference between liners and shaders, etc. You will also have to keep drawing, learn how to draw things quickly and well. Its a LOT of hard work so don’t get discouraged. Apprenticeships can take 6 months to 2 years, so plan accordingly.
4. Becoming a Tattoo Artist
You will do around 100 tattoos for free during your apprenticeship. But free tattoos mean that YOU will pay for them. So make sure to have a lot of money saved up for supplies. You can tattoo friends, family, whomever you wish. After that, you will possibly tattoo some clients at the shop.
Then the time will come you take your test to become certified. You absolutely need to take this test or you will be risking your reputation and possibly get into some trouble with the law.
Once you’ve passed your test, you may start tattooing and charging for it! So Congratulations! You’ve made it.
5. Professional Work
Generally, the shop you learned to tattoo at will have you on contract for at least a year after you’ve completed your apprenticeship. Keep working hard, take pictures of every tattoo you do, add these to a new portfolio. After your contract is up, you may choose to stay at your home shop or you may find a different shop. A huge part of your work is networking. A large portion of the work you get will be through word of mouth, so get to know other artists, collectors, etc. Go to conventions! Put yourself out there, don’t let yourself become complacent. You are responsible for your success at this point, no more coddling or hand holding. Go for it! Your future is yours to shape.